Young people are the voice of change

Young people from across East Ayrshire joined the second Children and Young People’s Climate Conference – ‘Caring for our Climate’ to voice their concerns about the climate emergency and help shape the future of Council policy.

Liam Fowley, MSYP for Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley and Vice Chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament, opened the online conference and Andrew Kennedy, Head of Facilities and Property Management, who leads the Council’s Climate Change planning, set the scene for participants and guests.

The conference was split into four key themes that are set out in the Council’s Climate Change Strategy – Energy, Transport, Waste and Natural Environment. Young people led engaging workshops on the four themes and were joined by children and young people from schools across East Ayrshire to discuss their ideas for change, where they were encouraged to ‘think big’ to help East Ayrshire achieve net zero by 2030.

The Energy workshop was led by Charlotte from St Joseph’s Academy and Catriona from The Robert Burns Academy; the Transport workshop was led by Jamie from Kilmarnock Academy; the Waste workshop was led by Paige from Kilmarnock Academy while the Natural Environment workshop was led by David from The Robert Burns Academy and Caleb from St Joseph’s Academy.

The young people also updated their peers on action taken by the Council since the first climate conference, which was held in October 2019. These actions include replacing the existing vehicle fleet with electric vehicles and installing electric vehicle charging points; introducing smarter working arrangements (pre-pandemic) to enable the reduction of office accommodation, introducing changes within our kitchens to ensure that food waste is recycled rather than sent to landfill and taking action to reduce carbon consumption in our buildings by improving insulation, installing biomass fuelled boiler plants, increasing solar pv installations and installing air-source heat pumps for heating at our new Early Childhood Centres.

Following the workshops, the Education Service launched a new scheme the EAC Clean Green School Award. This award will be open to all educational establishments. Schools will select at least two themes from the Climate Change Strategy and scope out suitable actions, which will encourage wider change within their communities and deliver sustainable change.

Young people were given time to start work on their climate change action plans, that will be further discussed when back in their schools. Everyone attending also wrote pledges for change, which were personal or for their school community. This included switching off lights when they leave a room, planting trees, recycling food waste, not taking ages in the shower and walking to school.

Linda McAulay-Griffiths, Chief Education Officer and Head of Education and Paige Holland, Vice Chair of the Children and Young People’s Cabinet closed the conference speaking passionately about the importance of youth voices driving the climate change conversation locally, to protect people and nature from climate change.

Councillor Claire Leitch, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, Net Zero, Environment and Climate Change, Equalities and Inclusion said: “Our last Children and Young People’s Climate Change conference in 2019 was a major catalyst for us as a Council. Listening to the pleas for local action from our young people was an instrumental factor in us setting up our Members and Officers Working Group (MOWG) that included representatives from our Young Person’s Cabinet and local communities and organisations.

“Since then we’ve scrutinised every aspect of the Council’s ways of working and looked closely at how we can cut emissions with both big and small changes to the way we carry out our day to day business. At the same time, we’ve also looked at how people in our schools, businesses and communities can also help with the fight to cut carbon emissions. 

“As a result we’ve launched our first ever Climate Change Strategy and consultation – it’s a blueprint for how we can all help make a difference. 

“Of course while we’re all already working hard to combat the climate emergency, we’re very conscious that there’s a great deal more we can do to make the future of our planet better for next generations – that’s why the conference was both exciting and crucial. 

“For us as councillors and officers it was very much a listening brief – so many of the ideas and changes we’ve made came from our first conference and it was exciting to hear the concerns, ideas and suggestions of our children and young people first hand.

"We've already achieved a great deal but I’m hopeful that together with our new strategy, this conference will take us to a new level, helping the whole of East Ayrshire reach its Net Zero targets.”

East Ayrshire Council’s Climate Change Strategy is a comprehensive plan to help the Council reach Net Zero emission by 2030, in line with UK100 targets, and to help make the whole geographic area Net Zero by 2045, in line with the Scottish Government targets.

The plan is currently out for public consultation, which ends on Friday 12 November 2021.  You can find out more about the Climate Change Strategy online